In the series Dialectics of the Sexes 16


In The Restless Years – one of the volumes of Konstantin Paustovsky’s autobiography, a book beyond praise – you stumble over passage after passage with breathtaking observations, sometimes on details, sometimes on characters, then again ruminations of a je ne sais quoi. It just does not stop.

Of a sad beauty is the description of his wintery search for cigarette butts, along with his friend and former sailor Zuzenko.

Outside the town’s periphery that ‘skipper’s sharp eye’ helped pauper-writer Konstantin to find cigarette-leftovers, dispersed and scattered as they were between or on the side of the rails on which trains brought passengers into the station. Some time before their arrival they threw their buts out of the window.

The two friends separated the tobacco residue from their filters, then moistened the mixture. Once dried and turned into fags, this blend did not taste bitter any longer.

‘Gradually I made useful observations regarding both stubs and smokers. Sometimes we found stubs with traces of lipstick. The impression of female lips always left a faint network of tiny furrows. Zuzenko used to say that the pattern made by these little grooves was different for every woman, just like thumb prints. According to the skipper, the colour of lipstick corresponded to the woman’s character.’




These wise words I read a day before I visited the house that my mother left behind after her move into an old folk’s home. I took away some books and pictures. Until after her death the house needs to wait for new occupants; troubles in the family necessitate the employment of a testamentary executor. But to leave those drawings and books to mould and rot away, as had happened previously to a few precious watercolours – I won’t have it.

Is it strange, then, that while taking these pictures in their nicotine stained frames from their wall I heard Paustovsky’s lines singing in my head, even louder once I had opened a severely yellowed envelope with inside it photograph’s of Japanese copulations in which my anthropologist father was seriously interested – out of scientific motives or otherwise?

On the back of one of these takes, above the stamp of The National Museum of Ethnology Leyden, it read in a handwriting which perhaps is not my father’s: ‘Book Sekko’ or ‘Book Sokko’, complete with exclamation mark. And also: ‘Collection Kaempfer’. On the web I found bits and pieces on that Kaempfer collection, but nowhere was such ‘adult material’ mentioned or to be seen. I did not succeed in uncovering the identity of either ‘Sokko’ or ‘Sekko’.



Between her slightly older thighs this slim, unmistakably young man takes a woman a tergo, his gaze intensely focused on her arse which seems to be an almost asteroid version of the lipstick imprint of a mouth on which, during their cold journey through icy Russia, Paustovsky and Zuzenko had their conversation – looking for cigarette butts.

Could it be that in these delicate anal furrows he is fathoming the character of his mistress, just like our two Russians did with that lipstick shade of a mouth? Or, to pinpoint her disposition more precisely, should he also take into consideration her voice responding to their act? Say, ultimate synaesthesia.

This much is certain, Paustovsky puts it into words:

Touch beauty with a careless hand, and it’ll disappear for ever.

Sierksma, Haarlem 6.11/2016


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s